UK's NHS spent $150M for radiology outsourcing in 2017

A new radiologist workforce report issued by the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) for 2017 noted that the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) spent $150 million (£116 million) to outsource patient scans in response to the shortage of radiologists.

“The scale of the crisis in radiologist staffing cannot be overstated,” said radiologist and RCR president Nicola Strickland, MD. “Diagnostic and interventional radiology is fundamental to so much of the NHS—from getting a proper diagnosis to planning surgery to cancer care and trauma management. The fabric of medical and surgical care will collapse unless more is done to increase the number of home-grown radiologists.”

The most notable finding in the report is that outsourcing costs have doubled in three years in the U.K. from $74 million (£58 million) to $149 million (£116 million).

“The NHS bill for outsourcing scans continues to soar because imaging departments are run ragged, without enough trained radiologists to handle the spiraling workload,” Strickland said. “The irony is that the amount spent on overtime scan reporting and contracting scans out last year would pay for more than enough fully qualified, in-house radiologists, if only the money were allocated to train them.”

By 2022, the report stated, there will be a shortage of at least 1,600 radiologists. The U.K. currently needs more than 1,000 full-time diagnostic radiologists to fill vacancies to keep up with the workload, which rose by 30 percent between 2012 and 2017.

The greatest increase in overtime outsourcing costs in the U.K. came from in England—from $60 million (£47 million) to $127 million (£99 million).

Retaining the current radiology workforce is key. Employers, Strickland said, must focus on working conditions and flexibility. Additionally, they need funding for more trainees to combat the current staffing crisis.

“Radiology is a very popular medical specialty for young doctors—we have four applications for every trainee post,” Strickland concluded. “We know many hospital imaging departments desperately want to train up more radiologists, but they need health bosses to stump up the money needed to fund those trainees.”